Monday, October 13, 2014

Adieu Professor Ali Mazrui

News just arrived that legendary and world renowned scholar, Distinguished Professor Ali Mazrui (1933-2014) has joined his ancestors at age 81. As of the time of his death, Dr. Mazrui was an Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and the Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Every distinguished scholar is so designated for having recorded a high point or achieved a landmark in his or her career. A continuously active intellectual, Professor Mazrui's high point came in the form of a 1986 television series known as The Africans. In those series, Dr. Mazrui presented a complex picture of ancient and contemporary Africa in a manner that had never been shown before on US television screens. In 1987, he followed it up with his book publication known as The Africans: A Triple Heritage. For at least once, modern Africa—along with its Western-style cities and skyscrapers, the high points and low points of urbanization—was prominently displayed on US television screens. The Africans emerged as a means of potentially replacing popular imaginations of the African continent as mainly a home to wild animals that even roam the streets of society, side by side with human beings. The Africans continue to serve as learning tools in university classrooms. I believe that through The Africans, Dr. Ali Mazrui, now in the company of his ancestors, will, for long, stay alive in the memories of the living.

In 2008, the department of Africology and African American Studies at Eastern Michigan University hosted the late Professor Mazrui as that Year's College of Arts and Sciences’ McAndless Distinguished scholar. He spent with us two busy weeks that proved eventful and memorable, and his lectures attracted record crowds of students, faculty and staff.

In 2005, Foreign Policy magazine and British journal Prospect listed Professor Mazrui as among the world’s 100 most important public intellectuals. In recent years, the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center recognized Ali Mazrui as one of the most influential 500 Muslims in the world (

Though a committed public intellectual, Professor Mazrui remained devoted to his religion of Islam. In a keynote lecture that he gave at Eastern Michigan University, during the aforementioned distinguished McAndless professorship visitation in 2008, Mazrui opined that the 21st century is marked by a perceptible decline in prejudice based on race but an increase in prejudice based on religion. In the 4th edition of my Towards an Understanding of Africology (2013), I reflected that …

It would appear that in contending, as he did, that prejudice based on religion is now on the ascendency, Mazrui was perhaps alluding to public anxieties and U.S. government’s national security thrusts that came in vogue in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack on New York’s twin towers that claimed nearly four thousand American and non-American lives—an attack that government officials reported as having been carried out by 19 plane hijackers of Islamic and foreign extraction (p. 250).

Mazrui was also a farsighted scholar. In one of the episodes of his 1986 The Africans’ television series, Mazrui predicted that in the 21st century, two global African communities would emerge as “most privileged” black communities. They are African Americans in the United States and Africans of South Africa. At that time, South Africa was still in the grips of apartheid white minority rule. In Towards an Understanding of Africology, I wrote as follows about those predictions.

It appears that time has vindicated [Mazrui]. Black majority rule has since emerged in South Africa although the vestiges of apartheid are still quite visible in that country. During the 1980s … Professor Mazrui predicted that African Americans would, in future, become a most privileged black group in the 21st century…Well, when you juxtapose Mazrui’s 1980s prediction with the fact that by the late 1990s, the prevailing value of the gross annual African American consumer market was about $400 billion (Smith and Horton, 1997, p. 451)—a figure which was said to be equal to the gross domestic product of the fourteenth richest nation of the world (Marable, 1995, p. 195)—you are likely to share Mazrui’s optimism. Your optimism would perhaps double if you learn that that as of 2011, that estimate of the annual black consumer power in the United States has soared to $836 billion (The Buying Power of Black America, 2013)(p. 269).

I then went on, however, to point out that even though Mazrui did accurately forecast, back in the middle 1980s, that US African Americans would emerge as a most privileged black community in the 21st century, hardly would his human limitations have allowed him to identify a specific and historic feature of that prediction, namely that by 2008, an African American named Barack Obama, would win the presidency of the United States. Of course, Obama was re-elected in 2012.

May Mazrui's soul rest in perfect peace!